West Meets East: Asian-European Interaction since the 17th Century

West Meets East: Asian-European Interaction since the 17th Century

Satyanarayana Adapa, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Jacobs University Bremen / Osmania University, Hyderabad; Marc Frey, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Jacobs University Bremen
From - Until
10.05.2010 -
Conf. Website
Stefan Hübner / Torsten Weber, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Jacobs University Bremen

The aim of the workshop was to explore the multifaceted encounters between the "West" and the "East" in modern times. Given the diversity of "Western" and, here of special importance, German orientalist perceptions of Asia, the main objective was to probe the inter-cultural interface between Europe and Asia. The workshop focused especially on a critical assessment of Christian missionaries' understanding of Asian societies, religions, and cultures, as well as of the accounts of "Western" travelers, diplomats, and scholars on Asia.

MONIKA GÄNßBAUER (Erlangen) started with a presentation on the perception of 19th century China, based on accounts of several European and American missionaries. It was shown that many of the stereotypes formed by them, like Chinese “deceitfulness”, existed before the 19th century and continued afterwards. However, perceptions between the missionaries varied to a certain degree. Whereas some Westerners deliberately wanted to demonstrate their superiority and power to the Chinese, supporting the idea of the “White Man’s Burden”, others, who thought it necessary to differentiate stronger, rejected generalizations and conceded that in China institutions existed that might be of interest for their home countries. The Middle Kingdom was also often seen as a civilized, but decaying country.

BEATE LÖFFLER (Dresden) introduced two Western missionaries, both of them also church architects, analyzing and contrasting their respective influence on Japanese church architecture between 1910 and 1970. This was visualized through pictures of several of the churches built by them. William Merrell Vories (1880-1967), who had married the daughter of a Japanese noble, was a representative of conservative North American Protestantism, whereas Karl Freuler (1912-2000) from Switzerland embodied the Central European Catholic Renewal. Löffler explained that while the special Japanese circumstances could not be ignored by Western church architects, their influence was apparently so strong that only very few genuinely Japanese looking churches were – and are – constructed, since Christianity was reintroduced to Japan in the 19th century.

CARMEN BRANDT (Halle/Saale) concluded the panel on “Religion” with her presentation on recent activities of Seventh-day Adventist Church activists in Santal villages in Bangladesh. Since 1947 missionaries had started to focus more strongly on elementary school education of the children of ethnic minorities living in villages. While Santal parents would condemn that their children would be baptized without their consent or punished if infringing on Christian dogmas, meaning an alienation of the children from their local culture and religion, they also had no real alternative to sending them to such missionary schools. The Seventh-day Adventist Church on the other hand would acknowledge these problems, but nevertheless focus on its humanitarian and missionary activities in the name of helping and protecting minorities from the Muslim Bengali majority by making them equal members of an influential global movement.

The next panel, "Perceptions and Knowledge", was opened by TOBIAS WINNERLING (Düsseldorf), who spoke about the perception and presentation of Buddhism in the biggest early modern German encyclopaedia, Johann Heinrich Zedler's "Grosses Vollständiges Universal-Lexicon aller Wissenschafften und Künste" (printed 1731-1754). Although it was mentioned that it might be too much to expect a detailed lemma on "Buddhism" (especially because of lack of knowledge at that point of time), there is also no lemma on "Buddha Shakyamuni‘s teachings" or something similar. This could be explained by the fact that the conceptualization of the encyclopedia was short of a master plan. Information about Buddhism is therefore spread over several lemmata including "Chinese philosophy" and "Siam", most of them not referring to each other, while besides that no general index is given. Another problem, Winnerling said, would have been the classification of religions, which knew only Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Paganism, as well as the negative perception of especially the last, meaning also of Buddhism.

ANUSHKA GOKHALE (Freiburg i. Br.) then went on by analyzing the images of India around 1900 and especially the colonial discourse in several travel accounts of German-speaking literary and non-literary travelers (e.g. Alfred Meebold, Otto Ehlers, Hermann Keyserling and Richard Garbe). An outright denial of the British colonial rule in India cannot be found in anyone of them. However, the perspectives varied to a certain degree. Some travelers were impressed by the achievements of the British in India, while others focused on racial aspects, for example condemning marriages between Britons and Indian women, and considering the colonial rule as too soft. Arguments about the British helping the Indians can, as one might expect, also be found. Finally, colonial violence was justified to a certain degree because of the climate and the behavior of the indigenous people.

In the panel "Productions of Knowledge", ISABELLA MATAUSCHEK (Linz) examined trade encounters between Europeans and Southeast Asians (Malayans) and focused on Frederik de Houtman’s Spraeck ende woordboek from the 17th century, consisting of Dutch Malay dialogues and a wordlist, and on the travel accounts by the same author. She demonstrated that although linguistic skills were important, knowledge about how to establish contact with relevant actors, which merchandise was sought after, as well as common practises employed in trade proved even more crucial to success. Applied cultural know-how was therefore regarded as most significant for establishing and keeping successful trade relations.

ZAMEER KAMBLE (Pune/Göttingen) provided an example from literature to examine the intellectual and artistic interaction between Indian myth and Western logic. Based on a close and comparative reading of Thomas Mann’s short-story "Die vertauschten Köpfe" (The Transposed Heads), written in 1939 and first published in 1940, and the Indian myth Kathasaritsagara (written 11th century) on which Mann’s story was based, Kamble demonstrated how Mann had changed the latter in order to accommodate his affirmation of Western logos, his own political views, and his sexual orientation. Kamble criticized Mann’s conditioned love for Indian mythos which, according to Kamble was constrained by Mann’s logos. Eventually this restriction led to Mann’s "manipulation" of the original text. Kamble acknowledged, however, Mann’s skilful incorporation of a critique of fascism into his story.

In the last panel on "Concepts", AMIT DAS GUPTA (Berlin) argued that stereotypes, prejudices, likes and dislikes strongly influenced Indo-German diplomatic relations between 1949 and 1972. Taking the examples of Adenauer, "Hindu thought", and Bangalore, he provided insights into how ideas of colonial hierarchy persisted in post-war West German diplomacy. Based on files from the German foreign ministry, Das Gupta demonstrated how Adenauer seemed to have disliked Nehru in particular and Indians in general despite the fact that he had repeatedly relied on Nehru’s help regarding the issues of German unification and the release of German war prisoners from the USSR. Other high-ranking diplomatic staff held similar derogatory views of Nehru, Hinduism, and the Bengali. A few diplomats, however, cultivated positive clichés and irrationally admired India as "the light from the East". In general, Das Gupta emphasized that German views of India in the given time were rarely based on rational analysis but more on emotions and stereotypes. As a possible reason he explained that apart from generational factors, Germany, unlike France and Britain had missed out on the decolonization process which could have fostered more personal and less stereotypical perceptions of India.

In the workshop’s last presentation, KAVEH YAZDANI (Osnabrück) provided an overview of non-Western contributions to the development of science and industry in Europe focusing on the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. He rejected the Euro-centric view, which appears to experience a renaissance in academia and political journalism from time to time, that ‘the West’ owed little if anything regarding its rise from the 15th century onwards to the peoples of the Middle and Far East. Addressing channels of diffusion, methodology, and concrete material contributions to the Industrial Revolution, Yazdani reviewed recent literature dealing with Europe’s indebtedness to China, India, and the Islamic world. It remains to be researched, Yazdani stated, why the Industrial Revolution took place in Europe and not in Asia despite Asia’s previous leading role in science and technology.

Conference Overview:

Welcome and Introductory Remarks
Satyanarayana Adapa (Hyderabad / Bremen)
Boris Barth (Bremen)

I. Religion

Missionary Representations of China and Intercultural Exchange in the ‘Contact Zones’ of 19th Century China
Monika Gänßbauer (Erlangen)

The Own and the Other: The Integration of Christian Church Architecture in Japan and the Construction of Japanese Christian Identity
Beate Löffler (Dresden)

Bringing the ABC and Christianity to Santals: The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bangladesh
Carmen Brandt (Halle/Saale)

II. Perceptions and Knowledge

The Perception and Presentation of Buddhism in Johann Heinrich Zedlers “Grosses Vollständiges Universal-Lexicon” (1731 – 1754)
Tobias Winnerling (Düsseldorf)

“Indien Erzählen”. Encounters with India around 1900 in the Travel Accounts of some German-speaking Authors
Anushka Gokhale (Freiburg i. Br.)

III. Productions of Knowledge

Religion an also-ran? Learning about Language and Culture in the Context of early Dutch Trading Encounters with Insular Southeast Asia
Isabella Matauschek (Linz)

The Conditional Love between Indian Mythos and Western Logos. Judging Thomas Mann’s Concept of Justice in “Die vertauschten Köpfe”
Zameer Kamble (Pune/Göttingen)

IV. Concepts

Orientalism and Occidentalism in Indo-German Diplomatic Relations 1949 to 1972
Amit Das Gupta (Berlin)

The Controversy about Asia’s Contribution to the Rise of the West – An Overview of recent Debates on Europe’s Debt to China, India and the Islamic World
Kaveh Yazdani (Osnabrück)

Editors Information
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